Governments adopted the wrong strategy dealing with the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant and more people need to wear masks, the head of a high-profile Australian medical institute says.
Burnet Institute director Brendan Crabb says the country faces a messaging problem and governments should admit they dropped the ball – and reconsider mask mandates to curb high COVID-19 case numbers.
“Australians love a mandate … but only when we’ve bought in to the reason for the mandate,” Professor Crabb has told the Medical Journal of Australia’s InSight+ podcast.
“And with COVID we have not bought into that – that’s why that mindset shift is so important.
“Until the prime minister and the premiers and chief ministers get up … I don’t think we will change the minds of Australians.”
Prof Crabb says the Burnet Institute has done yet-to-be released modelling showing mask mandates “could still save 14 per cent or so of the deaths, maybe 20 per cent of the cases by October”.
His warning comes as Australia’s toll continues to rise.
More than 26,000 new infections and 104 deaths have been recorded nationally on Tuesday.
Governments have been reluctant to reintroduce mandates, although various leaders have encouraged wearing masks in certain settings.
Fear of a public backlash, which Prof Crabb acknowledges would probably happen, is likely responsible.
The Victorian government on Tuesday announced free masks would be handed out at the state’s COVID-19 testing sites, community health services venues and on public transport.
Prof Crabb suggests mandates be used rarely but adds that requiring masks in some circumstances could encourage more people to wear them outside of those areas too.
“What we’re worried about now with mask mandates is that the community will revolt – and that’s probably true,” he said.
“The reason for that is that we’ve not won them over. The community doesn’t know what value there is in it.
“We know that mandating does work. There’s good evidence to say that it makes a big difference. It’s not a trigger you’d want to pull that often and it’s certainly not something that needs to be in every circumstance.”
LATEST 24-HOUR COVID-19 DATA:
NSW: 10,043 cases, 25 deaths, 2265 in hospital with 54 in ICU
Victoria: 6380 cases, 44 deaths, 673 in hospital with 32 in ICU
Queensland: 4141 cases, 24 deaths, 710 in hospital with 24 in ICU
Tasmania: 650 cases, three deaths, 84 in hospital with two in ICU
ACT: 498 cases, four deaths, 146 in hospital with four in ICU
WA: 2965 cases, no deaths, 358 in hospital with 11 in ICU
SA: 1853 cases, four deaths, 341 in hospital with 11 in ICU
Northern Territory: 216 cases, no deaths, 34 in hospital with three in ICU.
(Australian Associated Press)